Not all heroes are found on the battlefield or in the news. Everyday heroes are the unsung, steadfast people with robust hearts who consistently do their best for others with no promise of reward or recognition.
These are three folks I know who fit this description. The third one, Naomi, is from a post I did over a year ago honoring everyday heroes.
Eric: Eric and I went to school together. The only child of a teacher and college professor, Eric was born with developmental and cognitive challenges, but that never diminished the glow of his personality. Always sweet and ever kind, his big heart extended even to those who sometimes made fun of him.
Eric has been a bagger for decades now at a local grocery store. He's always cheery and asks about my entire family when I see him. Once, an elderly woman in a scooter was in front of me in the line where Eric was stationed. Eric saw her, trotted off in the direction of the floral department, and returned with a yellow rose, which he presented to her with a flourish. She smiled as he escorted her out of the store with her bags. The checker saw the wondering smile on my face and explained, "Eric does that for every elderly person that comes through his line. We keep a running tab and he settles up at the end of each week, when he gets his paycheck."
When Eric returned to help bag my groceries, I said, "Eric, that is a wonderful thing you do for these people, giving them such a beautiful flower!"
Eric looked down at the groceries he was sorting for a moment, and then replied, "It not take much to make people happy. I like to do that, and they smile so big. They happy and I happy."
Eric knows the secret of gardening some never discover: the most fertile ground is the thirsty terrain of the heart.
Josh: Josh is a former student of mine and grew up without a dad. The pain Josh felt from that absence would surface time and time again in fights with other boys and defiance against all authority. It looked like another wasted life when he ended up doing jail time at 18 for heroin possession.
I was surprised to see him one early morning, walking into the school cafeteria, hand in hand with a little boy who sported Josh's smile. "Hello, Josh! How are you?" I asked.
He smiled broadly and introduced me to his son, Josh, Jr. He explained he had moved back to our community and in with his mom when he was released from jail. He was determined to be active in raising his son, he emphatically explained. "Growing up without my dad made me really angry. I finally realized when my son was born that I love him too much to hang onto that anger anymore. Letting go of it is like my present to him, and really, it's become my present to myself, too."
Josh settled himself onto the small cafeteria stool at the table beside his son while I went to drop off paperwork to the cafeteria manger. Another teacher approached Josh and talked with him while his son ate. While Josh Sr. chatted with the teacher, Josh Jr. stopped eating looked up at his dad. He leaned his head in for a moment against his dad's arm and nuzzled it before continuing his meal. His dad stopped talking, smiled down at his son and ruffled the boy's hair.
A cafeteria worker noticed me watching the scene and explained, "Josh works two jobs, one the night shift, which means he's just now getting off work, and the other a part time job each afternoon, which means he only gets about five hours of sleep each day, yet he's always here, every morning, walking his boy to school and sitting with him while he eats breakfast. He won't go home to sleep until his son is finished eating."
Even without a father's example, Josh is living out real fatherhood.
Naomi: Naomi and Lyle were literally childhood sweethearts. They met in the second grade and it was in the third grade he told her she was going to be his wife. She thought he was crazy, but sure enough, when they were 18, they married and he shipped off to fight in World War II.
Her prayers for him were fervent, and the Lord brought him home safely after two years of combat. Her hopes of building their family took a cruel turn when she suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. Lyle didn't want to adopt, so she swallowed that dream and poured herself into caring for him. People said they almost moved as one person, they were so close.
When Lyle died in their 64th year of marriage, Naomi thought it best that she should die, too. She even asked God to take her home. She was disappointed each morning when she awoke, still breathing. She finally gave herself a good talking to and decided since she was still breathing each morning, she must still have purpose.
She remembered how she had longed for children, and although she had many nieces and nephews and their families to dote on and love, she wanted to do more. She went to a large children's hospital that cares for babies born too early and those battling serious diseases. She read how these babies needed human touch to help them thrive, and sometimes their exhausted parents needed breaks. So Naomi became a rocker.
She reports every morning to a special room where she disinfects herself, dons a sterile gown, and receives babies to cuddle and rock.
While she rocks them, she sings them the songs she stored in her heart but never got to sing to her own children. She whispers in these babies' ears and tells them they will be great men and women some day, how much they are loved, and how very special they are. When the nurses come to pick them up from Naomi, the babies are calm and peaceful, their vitals are strong.
And Naomi, who once asked God to end her life, now prays for more days so she can continue to love these little ones.